Mt. Gagyu as seen from JR Bitchu Takahashi station.
Just visible near the mountaintop, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle is one of just twelve invaluable castles built before the Edo period, which still retain their original towers.
Earning it the nickname “Castle in the Clouds”, from autumn to spring a sea of clouds drifts around the mountain in the early morning!
Arriving at the 8th station parking area by car or shuttle bus, you will find a signboard that states, “Around 20 minutes to the castle tower”. 700-meters? Child’s play!
As I excitedly half run up the mountain trail wondering how much longer it will take to get to the castle tower, I see an old signboard that reads, “Rush not, advance with ease, Castle Lord”.
Though there are paved steps, there are also slippery stone stairs as well, so even if you visit on a date, I recommend wearing shoes suitable for trekking!
Though the mountain trail doesn’t really allow you to see very far ahead, at each 100 meter point there’s a sign. It’s good to know you’re actually getting closer to the castle.
The castle town spreads out below me. I take a short break, and soak up the view that the ancient lords must have had.
The next sight to catch my eye is the remains of Otemon gate, which used to be the castle’s biggest. You can feel the castle’s scale from its weatherworn stone walls and foundations.
A part of this plaster wall is from the Edo period. Based on this original part, the foreground of the photograph shows a section that has been restored. Along with the castle tower and the Niju yagura (niju = double, yagura = turret), the wall has been designated among Japan’s Important Cultural Properties.
Making it hard to see the castle tower clearly, Bitchu Matsuyama Castle was cleverly built using the geographical characteristics of the mountain. Stone walls appear one after another in tiers, but I continue to hurry on until finally…
There it is! I see it!
The spacious outer citadel, and the restored yagura!
Behind the southern gate of the inner citadel, I see the original castle tower. Here I buy an admission ticket for the castle and head to the inner citadel.
After the large-scale repairs carried out between 1681 and 1683 by Mizunoya Katsutaka, the then castle lord, the castle tower was left to go to ruin throughout the Meiji and Taisho periods…
Naturally, the construction of the castle tower interior is splendid, but the materials on display and stamps to commemorate your visit are also satisfying.
The origins of Bitchu Matsuyama Castle date back to 1240 (The Kamakura period). At that time, the fortress built by Akiba Shigenobu, the lord of the castle, was situated on a summit further to the north of the current castle’s site.
Between the Kamakura period (1185 -1333) and the Warring States period (1467-1568), it was an impregnable fortress built specifically to repel attacks. Through the frequently changing castle lords, it continued on as the symbol of Bitchu Matsuyama.
Used for discharging weapons upon enemy soldiers, the small square windows are called loopholes. To protect against enemy attacks, the holes that open outwards had to be as small as possible.
On the inside, they were designed to ensure as wide a field of vision as possible to make aiming at enemy soldiers easier.
Peeking outside from one of the castle tower loopholes, I could see the current Niju yagura clearly.
Also called the “small Kyoto” of Bitchu, the castle is the absolute number one sightseeing spot in Takahashi. If you visit Okayama in fine weather, do make time to visit the castle.
Bitchu Matsuyama Castle
Location: 1 Uchisange, Takahashi city, Okayama prefecture
Open: April-September, 9:00-17:30 / October-March, 9:00-16:30
Closed: December 29th thru January 3rd
Admission: Adults JPY300, Elementary school students JPY150 (group discounts available)
Setouchi Finder Photo-writer: Madoka Hori
Madoka Hori / Photo-writer Entrepreneurial translator/writer living in Hyogo. As a licensed English tour guide, she occasionally takes tourists to beautiful destinations such as Kobe, Himeji, Okayama, Kyoto, and Osaka and her clients have never got lost so far. On Setouchi Finder, as one of the original team members, she enjoys taking photos and sharing her favorite hidden gems. Private Photo Blog http://riderv328.tumblr.com Twitter https://twitter.com/Riderv328
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